I have been fortunate enough the have the opportunity to complete 2 different applied learning experiences. The first was in Quito, Ecuador where I lived with a host family and attended a local university. I traveled around the country to the beaches, the jungle, and lived in the mountains. I was exposed to a new culture, new people, and a new language for the first time. In Cusco I also lived with a family and spent my time working in an elementary school with 4 and 5 year olds as a teacher’s assistant. I was able to help the students with their daily activities, play with them during recess, and form strong bonds with each of them during my time there. Twice a week I also volunteered at an all girls orphanage. I helped the girls with their homework, played games, and did crafts with them. While in Cusco I was also able to travel to Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca.
I always knew that I wanted to study abroad. As a Spanish major, I wanted to be able to completely immerse myself in the language and of course, experience another culture, but I had no idea I would fall in love with it like I did. I found out about the direct exchange program in Quito through the Office of International Programs and everything about it seemed like a perfect fit for me. When I got back from Quito, I knew that this wouldn’t be the end of my travels abroad and I was looking for a way to explore another South American country. A friend of mine told me she got information from the Office of International Programs about the programs that ELAP offered all over the world. I decided to look into it and when I found out there was a program in Cusco I was sold.
Both of these experiences were rewarding in different ways. When I was in Quito, I spent most of my time with students my own age, American and Ecuadorian. I traveled a lot my main focus was school and, of course, exploring the country. I didn’t have much interaction with young children there, so when I got to Peru, I faced a whole new challenge of communicating with kids. Also, while in Peru, my internship was my top priority. Although I did have the chance to travel and see parts of Peru, the main reason I was there was to help out in the school and the orphanage. Working in the school was probably the most challenging aspect of the Cusco experience for me. I picked up a lot of useful vocabulary. When working with kids, you have to be very direct in order for them to understand instructions. I learned quickly that not using the correct vocabulary word led to a lot of confusion for me and for the students. Throughout both experiences I gained an appreciation for different ways of life. My study abroad trip to Quito was the first time I had been out of the country and it opened my eyes to many foods, customs, and ideas, that I hadn’t been exposed to before. After theses experiences I brought back a more positive outlook on life.
I believe this experience not only helped me improve my Spanish speaking ability, but it also helped me learn how to relate better to people. During both of my experiences abroad, one of my favorite things to do was sit and chat with the locals just to get to know them. I brought that interest the others’ lives back with me and I believe people are more open when they realize that you genuinely care. I also think these experiences helped boost my confidence. Knowing that you can survive in a foreign country on your own is one of the most empowering feelings I have ever experienced.